On Those Scots-Irish Pioneers


On Those Scots-Irish Pioneers

I’m an indoor person. I come from a long line of indoor people – you know, the kind who define rigorous exercise as walking to the library (or bar), and weight-lifting as walking home from the library carrying books (or from the bar holding onto streetlights).

My forbearers settled in Maryland, almost all in Baltimore. When they got off the boat, they walked, at most, a few blocks and said, “This looks pretty good to me,” while they looked with bemused wonder at their shipmates who thought the wilds of Western Maryland (by this they thought Frederick) held their dreams. I would reckon that those who journeyed to the Appalachians were beyond my ancestors’ imaginations.

So, all this as a precursor to my admiration for hardy pioneers. For who better to appreciate an attribute than one who would have roundly turned her back on Horace Greeley’s exhortation to “go West.”

My thoughts are fueled by a recent trip to the Smokey Mountains and reading John Erle’s Time of Drums. Both deepened my understanding of that fierce independent mountaineer temperament, that inner strength that had to be called up for survival. While riding through Cades Cove in my comfortable car, I found myself filled with a deep sense of admiration for that Scots-Irish Highland spirit. I once heard Sharyn McCrumb, known for her Appalachian Ballad novels, say that the Southern hillbilly is the last group that we are still allowed to ridicule. They have no advocacy group calling for respect, for deference, for political correctness. Well, they wouldn’t, would they?

While we all have our labels, each of us is more complex than a one-dimensional categorization. And how easy it is for our strengths to quickly morph into clichéd weaknesses. No, those primal mountain men and women were not perfect, but I surely do admire their ability to face life as it was presented to them, without complaints, or excuses. Strength, and determination, and independence can be read in their faces. They wear their wrinkles with pride and dignity. We should respect and honor them for that.